WASHINGTON – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, spoke on the Senate floor urging his colleagues to support the critical nominations approved by the committee and waiting for consideration on the full Senate floor. His statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
“Mr. President— I rise today to discuss a number of nominations that have been considered and approved by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and urge the Senate to swiftly confirm them before we adjourn for the year.
“I have spoken repeatedly about the large and very troubling backlog of nominations in the Senate. It is every Senator’s constitutional role to provide advice and consent on the President’s nominations in a thorough and timely manner as part of the Senate’s confirmation process. We do our country no service – and ourselves no honor – when we leave key institutions without proper leadership and leave honorable men and women willing to serve in government twisting in the wind.
“During my time as Chairman of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, I’ve made it one of my top priorities to work closely with our Ranking Republican, Tom Coburn, to consider and move the President’s nominees as quickly as possible. We’ve had a tremendous amount of success. Majority Leader Reid, Senator McConnell, and their staffs have been valuable partners in this effort.
“Just yesterday, our Committee reported out three more outstanding nominees – Sarah Saldaña to be head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, Russell Deyo to be the top management official at the Department, and Mickey Barnett to serve another term on the Postal Service’s Board of Governors.
“I believe Ms. Saldaña and Mr. Deyo will almost certainly be confirmed in short order. I urge my colleagues to review their qualifications and work with me to fill these two vacancies at the Department of Homeland Security in the coming days.
“I’d like to spend some time on the floor today discussing Mr. Barnett’s nomination, and those of several other lower-profile nominees that we urgently need to confirm as soon as we can. Mr. Barnett is among a group of five bipartisan nominees to the Postal Board of Governors – two Republicans and three Democrats. If we don’t confirm Mr. Barnett and his colleagues by December 8th, Mr. Barnett – currently the Board’s chairman – would be forced the leave the Board. If that happens, the Board will no longer have enough members to achieve a quorum and won’t be able to conduct business. At a time when the Postal Service is struggling to address a number of financial challenges and to adapt to the digital age, this would be an avoidable disaster.
“Today, because of our inability here in Congress to come to consensus on postal reform legislation, the Postal Service is just twisting in the wind, able to do only so much to address the financial challenges it faces and transform itself for the digital age. Customers are left with uncertainty, then, about what the future holds for the Postal Service. We would make that uncertainty even worse if December 8th comes and goes and our five Postal Board nominees are still waiting for us to act.
“The same goes for our nominees to fill vacancies on the Postal Regulatory Commission, Nanci Langley and Tony Hammond. They’ve been waiting since the spring of 2013 to be confirmed, and the Commission has been working with only three commissioners as a result.
“Also pending before the Senate are two nominations to the D.C. Superior Court: Judge William Nooter and Judge Steven Wellner. These are both qualified nominees who, like the Homeland Security and postal nominees I’ve discussed, won bipartisan support in Committee and are needed to fill vacancies on the District of Columbia’s busy trial court. Judge Nooter and Judge Wellner were reported out by our committee with unanimous, bipartisan support months ago. In Judge Nooter’s case, more than a year ago.
“As I’ve discussed, these men are not alone in waiting so long for confirmation. But the problem is particularly unfair when it comes to the District of Columbia court system. Earlier this fall, during the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on D.C. Statehood, the current vacancies on the D.C. Superior Court were included as one of the many injustices the District faces simply because it serves as the nation’s capital. The District of Columbia already suffers from not having control over its own laws or local tax dollars. The citizens of this city should not also have to face a compromised legal system as well. While we in Congress may not be able to fix everything, I do think this is one of the few issues that we can and must address now.
“The D.C. Superior Court is a local court that hears primarily local matters. Most nominees are entirely uncontroversial and used to go through the Senate without a recorded floor vote. But because these local judges go through Senate confirmation, they have been caught up in the broader politics and stalemate of the Senate floor. No other local or state jurisdiction must have its non-federal judges approved by Congress. And no other state or locality is without a vote in the Senate to help push for action on nominations of concern to that community.
“The D.C. Superior Court is operated by the federal government and its judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for 15 year terms. It is important to note that, although this court is operated by the federal government, it is separate from the federal government. Instead, the Superior Court is the local trial court for the District of Columbia and handles matters such as local crimes, and domestic and civil disputes. Nevertheless, because this Court is operated by the federal government, the President nominates candidates for judicial vacancies from a slate prepared by a non-partisan nomination commission, and the Senate must confirm the nominees.
“Currently, there are four vacancies on the Superior Court; due to planned retirement and medical leave, this number will rise by the end of this year. These vacancies hinder the Superior Court’s ability to administer justice for D.C. residents. Superior Court judges already carry heavy caseloads. The existing vacancies, the majority of which are in the family court division, threaten to undermine the Judges’ ability to give proper attention to each case, including those cases in family court that affect the welfare of children.
“Recently, the Chief Judge of the Superior Court and the Bar Association of the District of Columbia have sent myself and both Senate leaders a letter raising these concerns and ultimately seeking a Senate vote on Judges Nooter and Wellner.
“Judge Nooter is currently the Presiding Magistrate Judge on the Superior Court and has served as a Magistrate Judge for the past 14 years. As Presiding Magistrate Judge, he manages 23 fellow magistrate judges and serves on the Leadership Team of the Chief Judge of the Superior Court. Judge Wellner currently serves as an Administrative Law Judge for the District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings. Since 2011, he has led the Unemployment Insurance Division, by all accounts skillfully coordinating a team of ten Administrative Law Judges and support staff to adjudicate over 3,000 unemployment insurance cases per year.
“Mr. President, given the caliber of these nominees, the lack of controversy over their nominations, and the bi-partisan support received, I urge this body to move their confirmations forward as soon as possible.”